Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors: Please Don’t Ask Why I Didn’t Leave

With one in four Australian women having experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, the chances are you or someone you know has been affected by domestic violence.

If the incidence is so prevalent it’s important to know how to help a friend in need. Our writer bravely shares her personal story and how to be there when it’s needed most.

I have experienced domestic violence, and so have several of my friends. We choose to call ourselves survivors, rather than victims. The word victim is laced with the connotation that we are weak. To leave a violent or emotionally abusive relationship however, takes immense strength.

The sad part is that often survivors are still made to feel as though what happened to them is their fault. To feel weak and obviously unintelligent that this happened to them. Why? Because we hear ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ or ‘I would never let my partner hit me. Just once and he’d be out the door.’ I’m here to tell you that naive and judgemental response is not going to be ‘Gee you’re right, now why didn’t I think of that?’

If on your first date the guy smacks you one right on the lips… with his fist rather than his lips, you’re not going to start a relationship with him. Of course, it doesn’t start out that way. He’s very charming, romantic and maybe a little wounded. His ex is a crazy bitch. His family don’t understand him. Whilst he’s wooing you and telling you you’re the most beautiful and amazing girl he’s ever had in his life, he’s also giving you that wonderful opportunity to save him. To be that loved and needed feels amazing initially. Until it doesn’t.

He soon becomes the centre of your world. You can’t see it, but your friends and family are drifting away. He’d rather you didn’t work, the people you work with don’t appreciate you as much he does. Slowly you’re isolated, and little by little the emotional abuse and control have changed how you think and feel about yourself. Eventually, when he’s eroded your self-esteem the physical and verbal digs begin, and along with that comes embarrassment and shame. You make excuses and begin to give in to him. It makes life easier not to provoke. It gets worse.

That girl who thought she would never let herself get into this kind of situation? She has, and it happened so slowly she didn’t even realize it until it was too late.

It’s that easy. And it can happen to anyone. Smart women. Successful women. Funny women. Independent women. Normal, everyday women just like you and me.

If you have a friend of family member who has been brave and strong enough to leave an abusive relationship, please take a moment to try to walk in her shoes before your judge.

DON’T ask her why she didn’t just leave, why she didn’t leave earlier, or even why she kept going back. You may not realise but this is victim shaming. And more than likely she can’t even explain to you why. She’s probably embarrassed and even mad at herself because of it.

DO tell her how awesome, strong and brave she is for taking that really hard step to leave. Let her know that you’re there for her, to listen without judgement. Right now, she needs building up, not tearing down. Be her champion and keep her strong in self belief.

DON’T give up on her if she does go back. I once had a trained DV counsellor ask me why I went back. This eroded my confidence so badly. I could see my friends and family throwing their hands up in despair. Many took a step back from me. In fact, I ended up going back again several times as many women in abusive relationships do.

DO quietly let her know you’re still there if she does choose to go back. You may hate the guy for what he’s doing, he may not let her see you, but if she knows you haven’t completely given up on her she may find the courage to leave for good. It’s hard to explain the emotional and mental hold, but once it’s finally been broken having the support of the people she was once close to is priceless.

DON’T rehash the ‘reasons’ the abuse happened in the first place. There are no good reasons! She was drinking? She does get a little giggly after a wine or two. No, not a reason. He saw her talking to a guy that wasn’t him. C’mon we know he doesn’t like that! Nope, not a reason. She wasn’t where she said she was going to be at a specific time? Still. Not. A. Reason. This implies it’s her fault. I had his family and even my own family and friends give me the ‘reasons’, without realising what they were saying. If it was my fault, then I should go back and work harder on myself to make it work…right? Wrong.

DO reinforce that any kind of abuse is not only not ok, it’s NOT HER FAULT.

DON’T criticise her partner. She loved him at one stage, part of her may still love him. Criticism can make her feel like she has to defend him and their relationship.

DO help her to put distance between herself and her partner. The period after a woman leaves an abusive relationship is the most dangerous. If you’re worried about her physical safety, help her to source an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) in NSW or Intervention Order in Victoria, also known as restraining orders in other states. Encourage her to block his number and social media accounts, without seeming as though you’re telling her what to do. Right now, she needs some autonomy.

DO listen to what she has to say, and believe her.

DO offer help. Remember, she is grieving. Food, childminding and support through any court appearances are priceless.

DO point her in the right direction towards DV services and counselling.

It’s easy to judge when you haven’t lived through a situation. It’s very hard to understand why someone would stay if they were treated so badly. I was once one of those people. I wish my family and friends had never had to experience what they have, even though I’m a much better person for having survived it. I really hope you don’t ever have to experience it in order to support someone you love too.

If you know someone experiencing domestic violence or are supporting someone in a domestic violence situation you can use the following resources:

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1800RESPECT: National Sexual Assault Domestic & Family Violence Counselling Service
1800 737 732

Relationships Australia
1300 364 277

Mensline Australia
1300 789 978

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Domestic Violence Crisis Service
(02) 6280 0900

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre
(02) 6247 2525

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Dawn House Domestic Violence Shelter
(08) 8945 6200

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Family Violence Response and Referral Line
1800 633 937

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Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre
1800 015 188

Domestic Violence Resource Centre
(03) 9486 9866

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Women’s Council for Domestic & Family Violence
1800 007 339

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Domestic Violence Helpline
1800 800 098

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Domestic Violence Line
1800 65 6463

Avatar of Heidi Lewis

Heidi is a teacher and single mum of four who goes to gym in order to indulge her love of cheesecake. Raising kids with ADHD and Aspergers is fast, chaotic and often hilarious, but she wouldn't change a thing. Heidi recovers with good chick lit, writing and Netflix after bedtime.


  1. Avatar of Blossom

    Where do you go when you have no readily available accomodation. the shelters are already overflowing and have no beds available.

  2. Avatar of Ann Danks

    Not many of us are trained to deal with this stuff. Of course we’re going to ask questions. Of course we’re going to offer helpful advice.

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